Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz // First published: 2012 // Genre: Contemporary YA
This edition: 370 pages, published in February 2012 by Simon & Schuster // Get it @TheBookDepository
Read in May 2015
May 2015 book of the month for the Writers of Color book club.
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common.
But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
I’ve had this on my radar for a pretty long time. A lot of people on BookTube talked about this book, then it won a bunch of YA awards, and there basically is not one month where I don’t hear/see someone talk about this book. So I took the opportunity of it being the pick of the month for the Writers of Color book club to finally pick it up.
In short, this is the story of Ari and Dante meeting one summer at the pool, and becoming best friends. Both boys are very different from each other and their friendship builds around their differences and what they can learn about each other.
The obvious main character here is Ari; he is the narrator of the story, we see everything through his eyes, and he is the one whose character development we follow. Even though his friendship with Dante is at the core of the book, tome it feels like his relationship with his parents and family is really what he struggles with the most. He is the child that was “born too late”, which means he barely has a relationship with his sisters who are almost 15 years older than him, and he know next to nothing of his brother who was put in prison when Ari was still a child. Add to that a veteran father who doesn’t know how to talk and express emotions, and you get a very frustrated teenager who doesn’t understand what is going on around him, why there are so many things that are never to be spoken of (his brother, his aunt…). This, to me, is the Ari’s main struggle and the major thing he has to cope with. Not his relationship with Dante. And when at the end <spoilers>close to none of those issues are being resolved (he gets to open an envelope with details about his brother, but we don’t see that) and the major thing is he finally accepts his feelings towards Dante and kisses him in the desert</spoilers>… I felt let down. Sure it makes for a cute ending, but none of the major struggles seem to have been dealt with appropriately. It’s like “here’s your envelope, your dad has made a friend, now go find Dante”. It felt like a cop out.
Now on to the Ari/Dante relationship. <spoilers>I was perfectly fine with Dante being gay and Ari being his best friend. Throughout the book, Ari clearly cares for Dante, in a way that feels like true friendship, and there really is nothing to hint that Ari may have “romantic” feelings for Dante. The fact that Ari’s mom tells him that he threw himself in front of a moving car to save Dante because he was in love with Dante doesn’t make sense to me. Why couldn’t he have done that “only” because Dante is his best friend and he cares about him? What about this makes it a “romantic” gesture? It obviously would have made for a less cute ending if Ari only wanted to be friends and Dante had feelings for Ari, but isn’t that the real world? The ending, as I said, was cute, but nothing during the book hinted at the fact that Ari may be interested in “kissing boys” (as Dante says), so the fact that he suddenly goes to the desert and kisses Dante, again, to me, felt like a cop out (as if the author didn’t want to disappoint the readers and he just basically gave them what they wanted).</spoilers>.
The writing style was fine, expect for the never-ending repetitions: when a character says something, the other one says the exact same thing. Sometimes three times in a row. It eventually got on my nerves.
I think contemporary YA is not for me, however much hype is surrounding a book… This was good, but I was not enthralled or anything, so this is a 3.5/5 for me. I was disappointed at the “unresolvedness” of some things, and the rushed ending that didn’t feel genuine to me.